Category Archives: fun

Soulless – Review

soullessCurrently on Loan from the Library:

The Long War by: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Bad Religion by: Ross Douthat

Other Books I’m Reading:

Don’t Kiss with your Mouth Full by: Henry P. Mahone

Anathem by: Neal Stephenson

Directive 51 by: John Barnes

Soulless by: Gail Carriger

I admit it. I’m a pretty opinionated person. It is not often that I don’t know exactly how to review a book. Usually I can point to the thing I liked, the things that worked, the parts that were a total disaster. I’m not actually sure I can do any of that with Gail Carriger’s book Soulless. But I’m going to try.

I came across Soulless because of my husband. He was reading an article about new genre twists and asked me if I’d ever heard of Gail Carriger. I hadn’t. How embarrassing. So I popped her book on my to read list, and proceeded to try and get my hands on a copy. It does not exist in my local library lending system. I hadn’t been able to find it at any local books store. It took months, and I finally broke down and bought my copy from an Amazon.com dealer for one cent plus shipping.

Leaving aside the fact that I generally mock the whole, the Undead fall in love genera (sorry Joss) almost as much as I mock the Jesus is my boyfriend genera, there are problems with this book. Stilted dialogue, both internal and external. Scenes I’m not certain make sense. Stock characters that are trotted in because the author needs a place holder. Plenty of romance novel type scenes of corporeal exuberance. Choppy plot. Hit and miss descriptions of people and places. In short, it is not what I look for in a Steampunk novel. Or any novel really.

And yet. And yet.

It’s as if Gail Carriger sat down and did exactly what they tell you to do in writing classes. Write what you like. I think she had a ball writing this. It’s funny, and quirky. Sure it’s a bit silly in places, but it’s fun. And wait for it…….. I enjoyed it.

Obviously I will have to research her work further. Purely for scientific reasons you understand.

Favorite Scene: Queen Victoria randomly shows up.

Favorite Scene to Mock: Let’s have sex on the dungeon floor before the madmen kill us.

Favorite Quote: “These are my monocular cross-magnification lenses with spectra-modifier attachment, and they are invaluable. I will thank you not to mock them so openly.”

Enjoyability: I’m going four and a half stars on this. Definitely a guilty pleasure read.

Where to read this book: Alone. On your e-reader. Possibly in the dark.

Further reading: Started Directive 51. It’s a good day to be me.

NaNoWriMo???

It’s that time of year again.  The temperatures are going down, the holidays are just around the corner, and the annual urge to write 50,000 words in a month is upon us.

Do you NaNoWriMo?

In past years, I have, and I’ve won all but once.  Still, I’ve got a so much other stuff on my plate now.  A book I’m writing a book I’m rewriting, and all the other things that go with November.  I just don’t know.  It’s not really looking good for this year.

On the other hand, I could be just on the edge of a brilliant idea.  Hummm.

And the Mountains Echoed – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed by: Khaled Hosseini

The King’s Deception by: Steve Berry

Dissolution by: C.J. Sansom

Earth Made of Glass by: John Barnes

Finity by: John Barnes

Young Petrella by: Michael Gilbert

Other Books I’m Reading:

Riotous Assembly by: Tom Sharpe

Don’t Kiss with your Mouth Full by: Henry P. Mahone

Anathem by: Neal Stephenson

First I have to admit that I’ve never read either of the other two Khaled Hosseini books The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. It is possible that my lack of experience with his other works coupled with my lack of knowledge about Islamic traditions, and Farsi poetry are about to lead me to be very cruel to his hauntingly lovely and misunderstood work And the Mountains Echoed. But I don’t think so.

And the Mountains Echoed is not so much a novel as a series of vignettes about loss and endurance. Which could be okay, except that the author tips his hand in the first fifty pages essentially telling the reader how the book it going to end. How it has to end. Sadly between the start and the obvious ending the plot arch is jerky as teen learning to drive a stick shift. There are characters that show up with no explanation, and disappear when their section is done. Leaving me with the feeling that Hosseini was simply trying to get his word count up. There are interesting things that happen off to the side and are never explored. There are parts of the book that are long retellings of what happened with none of the emotion or interest that would have been present had the reader been shown instead. Perhaps most confusing of all, the time line for all of the characters is frankly mushy.

The whole book felt flat and educational. Not educational in that good way either. Where the teacher has peaked your interest in further study. Educational in that way where you end up being thankful that you got a good grade on the test and can move on.

Which is what I’m going to do now. Move on.

Favorite Scene: Abdullah realizing why they are in Kabul.

Favorite Quote: “Or rather, someone’s tragically misguided idea of a mansion, three stories high, pink, green, yellow, white, with parapets and turrets and pointed eaves and mosaics and mirrored skyscraper glass.”

Enjoyability: Two stars. And that’s taking into consideration I’m a white midwestern Lutheran who doesn’t know the first thing about Farsi poetry.

Where to read this book: Somewhere with lots of caffeine close at hand.

Further reading: I’m thinking some John Barnes. The covers look really promising.

Book Bloggers International

Well, this is fun!

I will be featured on the Book Bloggers International blog tomorrow.  How cool is that?

Here is the link to their wonderful blog.  They do interviews with all kinds of book bloggers everywhere.  It’s fascinating reading.  There are so many interesting and charming people out there who love to blog about books.  Who knows, you could even find a new blog that you love to read. 

http://bookbloggersintl.blogspot.com/

Revenge Wears Prada – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

The Shining Girls by: Lauren Beukes

And the Mountains Echoed by: Khaled Hosseini

The God Eaters by: Jesse Hajicek

Letters from a Nutby: Ted L. Nancy

Other Books I’m Reading:

Riotous Assembly by: Tom Sharpe

Don’t Kiss with your Mouth Full by: Henry P. Mahone

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

I did indeed read Lauren Weisberger’s books The Devil Wears Prada.

I tried to read it once before I saw the movie, then I tried to read it again after I’d seen the movie. Only the second time did I succeed. It is very rare for me that the movie version of a book makes the book itself readable for me. But there it is.

Even after the disappointing experience I had with The Devil Wears Prada I thought I would go ahead and give the follow up a try. After all, there is something to be said for a really good evil character. I think Miranda Priestly counts as a good bady.

Revenge Wears Prada starts eight years after Andy left the horrible clutches of Ms. Priestly. Andy is about to get married to Max, a supposedly super wonderful media mogul. She is also now best friends and business partners with Emily, the woman who worked with her as Ms. Priestly’s senior assistant.

Once again, Andy has made a series of judgement errors when she’s picked the people in her life. There is her fiancé/husband Max. Who basically tells her who he is several time, but Andy doesn’t believe him. So when he finally stabs her in the back the reader isn’t surprised, but Andy is shocked. There is Emily, who used to torture Andy just as much as Miranda. Andy seems to have forgotten all of Emily’s mean girl tendencies, and gotten into business with her. It is however not clear how Andy could have forgotten all of Emily’s nastiness. Since she is still just as nasty to Andy from time to time. Especially when she isn’t getting her way. Also, Andy seems to have forgotten that Emily wants to be Miranda Priestly one day. If Andy had just remembered this about her best friend, the whole rest of the book never needed to happen.

Then there are the things that could have made this book better if they’d been fleshed out instead of just hinted at. Andy’s mother -in-law doesn’t like her and doesn’t want her to marry the overly sappy Max. This plot point could have been interesting, had it ever come to anything. It doesn’t.

Also, anyone looking for the return of Miranda Priestly in this book will be sadly disappointed. I know I was. Miranda the couple of times she shows up is at best a polite and cool snob, and at worst a mere shadow of her former glory. Miranda is trying to acquire Emily and Andy’s magazine The Plunge for the same media group that owns Runway. Which would make her Andy and Emily’s boss again. The best tricks she can come up with are killing them with kindness, and eventually pulling Andy aside and demanding what she wants. While a grown woman acting like a toddler is indeed worrisome, it’s not really scary. I can think of three better ways to forcibly acquire a magazine in fiction land, and I’ve never even been to New York city.

The end of the books is obvious to everyone but Andy.

Perhaps most annoying is Andy’s continued good girl posturing. Andy is not a nice person. She marries a man when she’s having second and third thoughts about the whole thing. She hold grudges. She throws herself into panic attacks over her suffering from eight years before. She encourages one woman to have an affair. She secretly dislikes the way Emily treats her, but won’t stand up for herself. She’s passive aggressive, refusing to just tell her partner that there is no way she’s willing sell the magazine. I mean, Emily was totally out of line, but Andy wasn’t dealing honestly with her. So neither of them wins that situation. Even though Andy gets an utterly random happyish ending, there is no way the character as written is going to be anything but miserable and/or self deluded for the rest of her life. In the end she can’t dither her way out of a paper bag. Why do I care about this person? Oh wait. I don’t. Hello Mary Sue.

Favorite Scene: Meh

Favorite Quote: Double Meh.

Enjoyability: One star. It got published.

Where to read this book: In secret.

Further reading: I have to read And the Mountains Echoed. I’m not sure I’m looking forward the experience.

The House Next Door – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

The Queen by: Steven James

Revenge Wears Prada by: Lauren Weisberger

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by: Ian Morimer

Kraken by: China Mieville

Reamde by: Neal Stephenson

Other Books I’m Reading:

Riotous Assembly by: Tom Sharpe

Don’t Kiss with your Mouth Full by: Henry P. Mahone

Anathem by: Neal Stephenson

I always appreciate it when an author steps away from what they normally write to try something different. I think most authors have more stories to tell then the ones they publish. When an audience becomes used to a certain kind of book from a writer of course they want more of that sort of book. But I like the glances down the road not taken. Even if they aren’t totally successful.

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons is one of those steps away from the normal. Siddons, who has long been known for lush books about Southern life and culture, actually doesn’t step too far from her normal realm here. The book is still set in the south, and still displays many of the usual Siddons motifs. However, The House Next Door is a psychological thriller.

Colquitt Kennedy and her husband Walter have a nice quiet middle class life, until someone starts to build a house on the property next to theirs. Colquitt is actually a little put out that someone is building next door, until she meets and befriends the young architect Kim Dougherty. It’s Kim’s first house. He’s excited, and desperate that everyone should recognize his special genius. Which of course Colquitt does.

Then things turn dark. There are accidents, and unexplained incidences connected with the house. People seem to have personality changes when they are in the house or become depressed. Leading Colquitt and eventually Walter to believe that the house is evil. Or possibly haunted. Of course you can’t have a haunted house on the block killing people, so Colquitt and Walter decide to take care of business.

Here is the thing that keeps this book from being just another haunted house story. Colquitt is the first person narrator of the story. So it’s not always clear if she is telling the absolute truth about things. The truth as she sees it. Or the truth as she’s been influenced to see it by the house. She could be suffering from a deep and scary form of psychopathy, or she could be dealing with a very evil house. It’s never really made clear either way. Although I have an opinion given the last ten pages.

The House Next Door was written in the late 1970’s. Younger reader may find some of it a bit dated. I don’t think it detracts from the book. Sensitive readers should be aware there is one scene containing a mildly graphic description of a miscarriage. On the whole though it is not a gory book.

If you do decide to read The House Next Door clear some time in your schedule. I read it in one sitting the first time. I was up until 3 a.m. It gives the phrase architectural nightmare a whole different meaning.

Favorite Scene: Kim comes by for a drink the first time.

Favorite Quote: “If we find that all our efforts have failed and someone buys the house, we shall set fire to it and burn it down. We will to this at night, before it is occupied. In another time they would have plowed the charred ground and sowed it with salt.

If it should come to that, I do not think we will be punished.

I do not think we will be alive long enough. “

Enjoyability: Five stars.

Where to read this book: Probably not at night alone in a house. I read it at night, but I was not alone.

Further reading: I have a whole pile of books. I should probably just start at the top and work down.

Sense and Sensibility – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

A Serpent’s Tooth by: Craig Johnson

The Princes in the Tower by: Alison Weir

The Glass Blowers by: Daphne Du Maurier

Reamde by: Neal Stephenson

Other Books I’m Reading:

Anathem by: Neal Stephenson

I’ve been reading many works of actual History lately. Mostly Alison Weir. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, her book on Mary Boleyn is a recommend. I’m still working my way through The Princes in the Tower. It is looking like a recommend right now too. I have, over the years, come to really enjoy Weir’s scholarly work almost as much as I dislike her fiction. She’s got a Biography of Elizabeth of York slated to come out in December. I’m excited.

Since reading me writing on the intricacies of the English monarchy is…not that interesting, I thought we’d talk about Jane Austen today instead.

I know that when you start on Jane Austen everybody will tell you that Pride and Prejudice is the book you should start with. Don’t get me wrong P&P is a great book. Funny. Insightful. Possibly proving that Jane was an early master of game theory. It’s a great read.

Persuasion is my personal favorite. If I thought I could ever write a book that good, I’d probably never leave my computer again.

However, structurally, I think Sense and Sensibility is by far the best of Jane’s works. Every character in S&S has another character in the book who is their equal in situation and rank, but who makes the opposite decisions about life. Talk about the deft and handling of the old morality play. It’s not just that the main heroines Elinor and Marianne Dashwood have opposite temperaments. One of the hero’s, Edward Ferrars is also his brother’s opposite. Sir John Middleton, who is the benefactor of the Dashwood ladies, he provides them a reasonable place to live, is the opposite of the John Dashwood, the half brother who wants to get the Dashwood ladies out of his house. Then there are Anne and Lucy Steele, who are the opposites of Elinor and Marianne. Even Colonel Brandon has his opposites both in John Willoughby, and eventually Mr. Thomas Palmer.

I can see why this book is not as popular as Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion. Sense and Sensibility is an earlier work. Some of the characters are not as well rounded as they would be in her later works. Elinor can be read as cold or just a goody two shoes at times. Marianne can be down right dense.

There are also people who have read the book and were deeply disappointed that Marianne married and was apparently happy with Colonel Brandon. That ending has never bothered me. It makes perfect sense in relation to the rest of the book. Of course Marianne has to marry Colonel Brandon. He’s the opposite of Willoughby. Likewise, she has to be just as happy with him, as she would have been unhappy with Willoughby. Otherwise the rest off the book doesn’t add up.

The very first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, I wrote the worst ever modern take on this story. To this day it’s a stain on my hard drive. So trust me when I tell you that what Austen did in Sense and Sensibility proves her writing chops. I couldn’t do it successfully, and I have yet to read a book where anyone else could either.

So, what is your favorite Austen? Why? And which heroine are you?

Personally, I’m an Anne with a heavy dash of Elinor thrown in.

Favorite Scene: The scene where Edward is not married after all.

Favorite Quote: “Excuse me,” said she (Elinor), “and be assured that I meant no offense to you, by speaking, in so quiet a way, of my own feelings.”

Enjoyability: Five stars

Where to read this book: Anywhere. It will make you look really smart.

Further reading: I found a Daphne Du Maurier at the library this week that I didn’t know existed. I have great hopes for it.

High School Reading

Books I was required to read in High School:

Lord of the Flies by: William Golding

The Catcher in the Rye by: J.D. Salinger

Animal Farm by: George Orwell

The Crucible by: Arthur Miller

The Grapes of Wrath by: John Steinbeck

Spoon River Anthology by: Edgar Lee Masters

Great Expectations by: Charles Dickens

The Old Man and the Sea by: Ernest Hemingway

Slaughterhouse-Five by: Kurt Vonnegut

The Chosen by: Chaim Potok

Our Town by: Thornton Wilder

My Antonia by: Willa Cather

It has been a slow week on the reading front. The local library is trying to get some books in for me. I’m going to take a break from the usual reading this week and spend some time taking about children and reading.

One of the best things that happened to me as a young reader was a fourth grade teacher who handed us a reading list, pointed us at the library, and told us to get to reading. The rules were simple. Ten (I think) oral reports to him by the end of the year. If there was something we wanted to read that wasn’t on the list, all we had to do was get his approval. That was the year I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and My Friend Flicka and A Wrinkle in Time and Anne of Green Gables and Island of the Blue Dolphins. That was the year I found C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander, and Robin Mckinley. It was a wonderful year. It was a year that taught me how to use a library, and how to find other things I liked, back before Goodreads, or the internet even.

Then there were the High School years. The list above is not comprehensive. They are the ones I remember having to read. There were probably others. Of the High School list I enjoyed exactly three books. These were the years that would have put me off reading all together had I not already been a well established reader. Four years is a long time to go and find you only enjoy The Chosen, Slaughterhouse-Five, and My Antonia.

It is true that some of it could have been the teachers. I probably wouldn’t have hated Catcher in the Rye so much if Holden hadn’t been sold to me up front as someone I would understand and connect deeply with. But I still would have hated Catcher in the Rye.

Then there was the whole Dickens thing. Of all the Dickens books I’ve read since, I’ve never hated anything as much as Great Expectations. David Copperfield is a good read. So are Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Pickwick Papers. Plus, I only leave A Tale of Two Cities out because my teacher at the time assured me it was “to complex” for our class.

I once asked the same teacher who told me I would connect deeply with Holden Caulfield why we were reading so many books I hated in her class. She told me that it was important for us to have a shared knowledge base so we wouldn’t look like idiots to our employers and social groups. More than 20 years since that time, never once has any of these books come up in conversation at work, or at a social event.

So here today, the list of books I read on my own in High School, that I think should be a shared experience.

Things I read in High School because I wanted to:

1984 by: George Orwell

Jane Eyre by: Charlotte Bronte

Fahrenheit 451 by: Ray Bradbury

Flowers for Algernon by: Daniel Keys

The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by: Victor Hugo

Howards End by: E.M. Forster

The Caves of Steel by: Isaac Asimov

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

One the Beach by: Nevil Shute

Not included here are The Scarlet Letter by: Nathaniel Hawthorn and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.   I think we did do both of those in class, but I had already read them.  So I don’t count them either way.

Have a great week everybody. I’ll see you at the library.

 

The White Princess – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

Dreaming Water by: Gail Tsukiyanma

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by: Gail Tsukiyanma

The White Princess : by Philippa Gregory

Hell is Empty : by Craig Johnson

Other Books I’m Reading:

Anathem by: Neal Stephenson

Much has been said over the years about how historically accurate Philippa Gregory’s works are or are not. I’m not going to belabor historical accuracy today. I don’t happen to agree with her theory that one of the Princes in the Tower escaped. Enough said.

The only thing left, if I’m not going to look at historical accuracy, is the quality of the novel as a work of fiction. That’s a whole different question. The White Princess is about the life of Elizabeth of York. Daughter of Elizabeth Woodville heroine of The White Queen and granddaughter of Jacquetta of Luxembourg heroine of Lady of the Rivers. Sadly while her mother and grandmother are portrayed by Gregory as women of action, sense, and strength, Elizabeth of York comes out as whiney, and frankly not that bright.

The Elizabeth of the book is forced into marriage with Henry the VII after he rapes her repeatedly at the behest of his mother who doesn’t want to have a barren Queen. Actually truth to be told, Henry’s mother Lady Margaret Beaufort heroine of The Red Queen really wants no Queen at all other than herself. The wedding is just about the last interesting thing that happens in the book. The rest is Elizabeth whining. She whines because she misses her uncle/lover Richard III of England. She whines because her husband is under his mother’s thumb. She whines because her mother, her husband, and her mother-in-law won’t let her play their spy games. She whines because she can’t pick between loyalty to her husband and son, or loyalty to the York family.

Perhaps more annoying than Elizabeth’s constant dithering, is the constant questioning. Every time her mother, or her husband reveal some portion of their plotting, she has a thousand and one questions for them. No wonder they wouldn’t let her play their spy games. As well educated as she is supposed to be, she has no apparent grasp of politics, or world events. She can’t even seem to decide whether she thinks the pretender to the throne Perkin Warbeck is her brother Richard all grown up, or not. The whole thing adds up to a 522 page book that contains 500 pages of the heroine flailing about uselessly.

This book would have been so much better if Gregory had let Elizabeth pick a side and become a spy master. It doesn’t even matter which side she would have picked.

But wait! Then the book wouldn’t have been historically accurate.

That is true. But the book is not historically accurate as written either. That’s why it is called fiction. Better an interesting read, then a dull whiny one.

Favorite Scene: Watch for the repeated prophesying of Elizabeth I of England.

Favorite Quote: “When I think of the fortune that was spent on your education, Elizabeth, I am really amazed at how little you know.”

Enjoyability: I’m going with three stars on this one. It could have been worse. It could have been much better.

Where to read this book: Far away from any historical reference material that could tend to enrage you. In fact resist the urge to fact check all together.

Further reading: In the background I’ve been working through the Longmire series by Craig Johnson. It has been really well done. Lest anyone think they are to highbrow for a mystery series there was a joke about Cato the Elder about three books back that made me laugh as hard as I’ve laughed over a book in a long time. 

The Posionwood Bible – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

Hell is Empty by: Craig Johnson

Bel Canto by: Ann Pratchett

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by: Andrew Sean Greer

Breaking Point by: C.J. Box

The Poisonwood Bible by: Barbara Kingslover

Other Books I’m Reading:

Anathem by: Neil Stephenson

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover sounds like a good proposition to start with. Rev. Nathan Price decides he has a call to be a missionary in Africa. So he beats the Missionary Society who doesn’t want to send him to Africa into submission. Then he drags his wife, who is not equipped to handle the mission, and his four daughters to a small village in Africa. The book is set in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when Congo is starting to become Zaire.

Sadly this book turned out to be long on plotting, and short on execution. So what I’m going to do is make a list of the seven things I found most irritating about the book. Then I’m going to stop writing. This is not because my list will be comprehensive. It’s because I don’t want to get slimy venom all over the internet.

  1. Rev. Price is a Baptist. Yet, he believes in and preaches from the Apocrypha. There is no explanation given for this beyond one of the daughters remarking that her father believes the Apocrypha is scripture and thinks all Baptists should too. Okay then.
  2. Rev. Price seems absolutely bent on baptizing the native children in the nearby river. But the natives don’t want to be baptized in the river. They don’t want to get eaten by the crocodiles. Totally reasonable. Yet, though it is noted that at home they use a big bath tub for baptizing, Rev. Price continues to insist on the river. Why? Never explained.
  3. A Baptist preacher that wants to baptize children who have not yet reached to age of accountability. Hum. Interesting.
  4. When Rev. Price’s wife finally decides to leave with her daughters, she allows the seventeen year old to run off with the smarmy pilot who they have all disliked throughout the book. Even though it is obvious that the pilot has no intention of even marrying the daughter. Well, true, her parenting skills aren’t top notch. Still Mom should have been horrified at the idea.
  5. Likewise the sixteen year old daughter is allowed to stay in Africa unmarried, with the black teacher from the local school, who is clearly in love with her. At least this couple gets married. But boy, you’d think a white Southern Baptist mother from Georgia would be at least hesitant to promote an interracial couple in the 1960’s. Then there is the interesting parenting choice involved in leaving your sick sixteen year old in Africa with a man not her husband.
  6. After the women leave Africa, the book devolves from showing the action, to telling all that happens. It drags pretty badly.
  7. At no point is Rev. Price written in a way that allows me to believe he was the sort of pastor who could have kept an American congregation together, let alone fostered one in Africa. It’s not just that he’s unbending or a zealot. It’s more like he has no basic understanding of human beings, not even himself. In fact that whole Apocrypha thing probably would have gotten him fired from most of the Baptist congregations I’ve seen in action. So how has this man got a job in the first place?

This book could have used a harsher editor. Or Zombies. Lots and lots of Zombies.

Favorite Scene: The last one. I was finally at the end.

Favorite Quote: I refuse to open this book again to find one.

Enjoyability: Two stars. One star for getting published, on star for having a plot.

Where to read this book: Don’t.

Further reading: Hopefully something that could not be improved through the addition of zombies. Which begs the question. Do Zombies make everything better?

 

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